Charged with a Crime? The answers to FAQ can Help
If you have been charged with a crime in the State of Texas, it is important to remember that Texas takes criminal charges of every variety very seriously and that working closely with an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney is always in your best interest. Additionally, the answers to some of the questions that other people in your shoes commonly ask can be very helpful as you move forward through the legal process.
Criminal Charges: FAQ
Although every criminal charge is utterly unique to the situation at hand and the circumstances and people involved, the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions can help you get your bearings and navigate the best path forward for you and your criminal case.
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When is the right time to speak to the police?
If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, you should refrain from speaking with the police until you have either consulted with an experienced criminal defense attorney or have your attorney with you. If you are being questioned by the police, you are required to provide them with your name and certain identifying information, but if the questioning is in relation to a crime, having a dedicated criminal attorney in your corner (before you begin answering additional questions) is the best way to protect your legal rights moving forward. Ultimately, anything you say to the police can be used against you, so making it your policy to wait for an attorney’s counsel is always prudent.
What does arraignment mean?
Your arraignment refers to your first appearance in court. You can be arraigned without having been arrested or having been taken into custody. During your arraignment, the charge or charges against you will be formally presented, and you will be asked to plead to the charge in one of the following ways:
It is at your arraignment that the judge will decide if you will be detained in jail or released into the community, and it is at this time that the judge will set your bail (if you are detained).
How does bail work?
Bail is an amount of money that the court first determines is adequate to ensure your conditional release from custody and then sets. Bail is intended to allow you the temporary freedom necessary – while your case is pending – to adequately prepare for what is to come while also helping to ensure that you will return to court to attend your trial date (when the bail money that you paid with will be released back to you).
What if I cannot afford bail?
Many criminal defendants work with bail bond companies to come up with the funding they need to make bail. Generally, you will need to come up with about 10 percent of the total bond upfront, which the bail bond company will keep for its services. Bail bond companies hire what are known as bounty hunters to find and return defendants who skip out on bail. It is important to note that your knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will skillfully endeavor to keep the amount of your bail to a minimum (or to bypass bail altogether if possible).
What is a preliminary hearing, and will I have one?
If the crime you face is a felony, one of the first steps in the legal process is very likely to be a preliminary hearing. This is a pretrial proceeding in which the judge will evaluate the evidence involved and make a determination about whether or not there is probable cause to pursue a criminal case in the first place and, if so, whether there is enough evidence to charge you with the crime in question. The standard of proof at this stage is much lower than it will be a trial, but the preliminary hearing will provide your criminal defense attorney with the opportunity to carefully examine the prosecution’s case against you, which will help him or her – in turn – build your strongest case moving forward. Your attorney may also engage in any of the following that pertains to your case:
Disputing the prosecution’s evidence
Having witness testimony throw out
Seizing on weaknesses in the prosecution’s case
How long will I have to wait for my preliminary hearing?
You can expect your preliminary hearing to be fairly speedy. There is a federal mandate that requires all such hearings to be held no later than 30 days after the defendant’s arrest. As the defendant, however, you have the right to waive time, which means you have the right to delay your preliminary hearing until you and your criminal defense attorney have all the legal pieces in place and are ready to proceed.
What about the pretrial conference?
Pretrial conference? Admittedly, it is a lot, and if you are feeling overwhelmed, it is important to recognize that you are not alone. Being charged with a crime is one of life’s most stressful events, and it is only natural to feel the pinch. Further, you are not alone in the sense that your dedicated criminal defense attorney is on your side and committed to skillfully advocating for your legal rights and for your case’s best possible resolution from start to finish.
Your pretrial conference, which is also called a pretrial motion, is a legal proceeding that will take place before your trial. At this pretrial conference, you and your attorney – along with the prosecution – will meet before the judge to hammer out which witnesses and which evidence will be admitted at trial. The purpose of the pretrial conference is to help ensure that your trial is fair and expeditious from the get-go. The pretrial conference is also an opportunity for your attorney to discuss a plea bargain with the prosecution (if this is a route that is deemed beneficial to you in your unique situation). Examples of plea bargains include:
Pleading guilty to a lesser crime than the one originally charged
Downgrading the charge you face from a felony to a misdemeanor or lesser felony
An important fact to keep in mind is that the vast majority of criminal charges are settled out of court in one way or another, and yours is likely to settle, too.
What if my case goes to trial?
If no plea bargain is reached – or if you and your attorney agree that proceeding to trial is in your best interest – you will begin preparing for trial. Another important note is that while you may proceed toward trial, you will likely have additional opportunities to settle your case prior to trial.
What steps are involved in a trial?
If your case goes to trial, it will follow the same basic steps that every other trial follows, and after jury selection (if you are having a jury trial), these include:
The opening statement made by both sides
The prosecution's presentation of the evidence
The defense’s cross-examination of witnesses
The closing statements made by both sides
Only if the jury can reach a unanimous decision about your guilt or innocence (if you have a jury trial) will your case be resolved. If the jury is unable to come to a unanimous decision, a mistrial will be declared, but if the jury unanimously finds you guilty, sentencing becomes the next step in the trial process.
How long will my trial take?
It is only natural to want your trial to be over as quickly as possible, but rushing is unlikely to do you any favors. Your knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will strategize your strongest defense with you and will proceed according to a schedule that protects your rights and helps to ensure your case’s most favorable resolution. Your trial will be unique to the circumstances involved and will follow its own unique course, which makes it difficult to predict how long it will take prior to getting started. Your attorney, however, will keep you apprised of what to expect and will fight to ensure that your trial does not take longer than is necessary.
What happens at sentencing?
If you either plead guilty prior to trial (via a plea bargain) or are found guilty at trial, a hearing will likely be set for your sentencing, and the judge will read your sentence to you at this hearing. Your sentence may include jail time, a fine, probation, or a combination of these elements.
What is probation?
Probation is the suspension of your jail sentence. This means that instead of handing down a sentence of jail time, the judge will release you back into the community, and you will be required to adhere to the conditions set by the court for a specific amount of time and under the supervision of a probation officer (in addition to any fines you are required to pay). If, however, you violate the terms of your probation, it can be revoked, and you will face being sent directly to jail to serve out the original sentence.
Can I appeal my conviction?
You may be able to appeal your conviction. If you and your criminal defense attorney can prove that something occurred throughout the course of your trial (at any stage) that is not in accordance with the law, an appellate proceeding may be deemed appropriate.
What happens with an appeal?
Generally, you have only 30 days to file your appeal, and if the appellate court finds that a legal error occurred, you will be entitled to a new trial. Some important points to keep in mind regarding appeal include:
New evidence cannot be introduced. The appeals process is, in essence, a review of the trial to ensure that it was fair.
Appeals cases are generally heard by a panel of three judges.
If your sentence is for less than ten years, you will likely be eligible for release on bond while your appeal is pending.
If the appellate court ultimately determines that an error of some sort was made in your case, it will be returned to the trial court to begin the trial process anew. At this point, the prosecution can decide to proceed with a new trial for your case or to dismiss it altogether.
Am I required to have a criminal defense attorney?
While you are not legally required to hire a criminal defense attorney, it is your legal right – whether or not you can afford one (if you face jail time). Ultimately, working closely with an experienced criminal defense attorney is the best way to help ensure that you skillfully navigate the rocky path forward with an eye toward the best possible case resolution.
RELATED READINGS: 3 Important Considerations When Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney
What is my criminal defense attorney’s role?
Your criminal defense attorney will take on many critical roles throughout your case, including:
Helping you understand the charges brought against you
Going after any exculpatory evidence (evidence that bolsters your defense)
Strategizing your strongest defense
Determining the likelihood of a plea deal and the best course of action related to any offers made by the prosecution
Preparing your case for trial and preparing you for pretrial, trial, and sentencing (as applicable)
Continuing to build your case as you go (in response to whatever evidence arises and legal determinations are made)
If you are facing a criminal charge, suffice to say that it is in your best interest to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney early in the process and to work closely with him or her throughout.
RELATED READINGS: 5 Tips for Hiring the Right Criminal Defense Attorney For You
Reach out to an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney Today
If you are facing a criminal charge, Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – is a criminal defense attorney whose practice focuses on skillfully protecting legal rights of clients like you – while pursuing their cases’ optimal outcomes. We are on your side and here to offer our impressive legal services, so please do not wait to contact or call us at 254-501-4040 today for more information about what we can do to help you.